Alberta Tree Species Capable of Living for 1000s of Years
Alberta has a reputation as a “Prairie Province” despite being over 60% forested. And when it comes to the forest we do have, we’re not known for having large old trees. But is that accurate? Can Alberta grow old trees? What are the oldest trees in Alberta?
The following is a list of tree species, native to Alberta or otherwise, that are capable of living for hundreds or even thousands of year. Perhaps, with time and conscious effort, we could cultivate a province full of ancient forests.
Growing Long Trees
Two listed species, Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine and Ginkgo, are actively being grown by the Secret Long Tree Society, a group of Edmontonians attempting to grow 1000-year-old trees.
Research has shown that mature trees offer the greatest benefits in terms of cultural and ecosystem services.
Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) – 1200 years
Native to the high elevations of Alberta’s mounAlberta’se whitebark pine is a long-living Alberta tree with significant ecological value. Whitebark pine has coevolved with the local Clark’s nutcraClark’sucifraga columbiana) that buries and inadvertently propagates seeds. Like the Korean Pinenut, the seeds are edible, though smaller.
The Whitebark pine is slow growing and can take on various forms depending on the harshness of its location. Whitebark pine grows as a multi-stemmed shrub in high elevations but can get as large as 70 feet tall and 45 feet wide in more favourable conditions. The oldest recorded tree is 1200 years old.
The Whitebark Pine is currently threatened due to white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, and the ill effect of fire suppression. The most comprehensive sources of information on Whitebark pine that I could find are an Alberta Conservation Association report from 2007 and a profile on conifers.org.
Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) – 2500 years
One of three bristlecone pine species, Pinus aristata is a small to medium-sized tree growing up to 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Pinus aristata is native to the Blackhills of Colorado but capable of thriving in Alberta, making it one of the longest living tree species capable of surviving in Alberta.
Read more about this bristlecone pine at conifers.org.
Korean Pinenut (Pinus koraiensis) – 500 years
Koren Pinenut is a slow-growing giant that produces edible nuts. Reportedly hardy to USDA zone 3, the Korean Pinenut is native to parts of Korea, Manchuria, Eastern Russia, and Japan. The tree can reportedly reach 100 feet, though 30 to 50 feet is more typical for trees under cultivation. Plant now, and you’ll harvest pine 10 to 20 pounds of nuts in 15 to 45 years. Bring a ladder.
Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) – 2500 years
Another long-lived pine tree native to Alberta is the Limber or Rocky Mountain White Pine. Found in mid to low latitudes, the Limber Pine can live for a few thousand years under ideal conditions. Trees can reach a height of 50 feet.
The Whirlpool Point Limber Pine, growing on the banks of the Cline River, is estimated to be between 2500 and 3000 years old.
The common name, Limber Pine, refers to its flexible branches, which can survive under the heavy weight of snow and ice. Learn more at Nature Conservancy Canada.
Alpine Larch (Larix lyallii) – 1500 years
A native Alberta tree found at high altitudes in the Rocky Mountains. Alpine Larch can grow anywhere from 30 to 80 feet tall depending on elevation – growing shorter at higher elevations. Soft green needles turn golden and fall off each year.
An alpine larch in Kananaskis is believed to be close to 2000 years old.
A 1900-year-old Alpine Larch in Kananaskis is reported to be the oldest in Alberta—more information at conifers.org.
Trembling Aspin (Populus tremuloides) – 10 000+ years
The trembling or quaking aspen is native to Alberta can potentially live for tens of thousands of years due to its massive underground root system that perpetually sends up new trunks. An aspen stand presents as many short-lived trees but is actually a long-lived subterranean giant. The mass, as a whole, can live to be ancient.
Pando is the oldest known trembling aspen growing in Utah’s Fishlake National ForeUtah’ssingle male aspen tree is estimated to be over 14 000 years old. Pando covers a staggering 106 acres, has over 4000 trunks, and has a mass of around 6 600 metric tonnes.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – Potentially Immortal
Evolving 200 million years ago, Ginkgo biloba can live for many thousands of years. Like aspen, Ginkgo is clonal and will send up suckers from the ground. Unlike aspen, old Ginkgo grows air roots extending down the tree to form additional trunks. A 2019 study found that the tissue of old trees is almost indistinguishable from young trees – making ginko potentially immortal.
While not native or common in Alberta, Ginkgo is cable of surviving in protected locations and urban environments within Alberta.
Alberta Heritage Trees Filtered By Age
The Alberta Tree Register is an effort to catalogue large, old, uncommon, and heritage trees through the province.